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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06FUKUOKA21 2006-03-15 08:37:00 UNCLASSIFIED Consulate Fukuoka
Cable title:  

IWAKUNI REFERENDUM BOOSTS MAYOR'S PROSPECTS, BUT WORRIES

Tags:   PGOV MARR PREL SOCI JA 
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VZCZCXRO9037
PP RUEHFK RUEHKSO RUEHNAG RUEHNH
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ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 150837Z MAR 06
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RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0184
INFO RUEHKSO/AMCONSUL SAPPORO PRIORITY 0075
RUEHNAG/AMCONSUL NAGOYA PRIORITY 0074
RUEHOK/AMCONSUL OSAKA KOBE PRIORITY 0083
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RUEHKO/USDAO TOKYO JA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHOVVKG/COMSEVENTHFLT
RHMFIUU/COMNAVFORJAPAN YOKOSUKA JA
RHMFIUU/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RHMFIUU/COMFLEACT SASEBO JA
RHFMIUU/COMFLEACT YOKOSUKA JA
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFIUU/NAF ATSUGI JA
RHEFDIA/USOFFICE DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/USMCACT MCAS IWAKUNI JP
RUEHFK/AMCONSUL FUKUOKA 0196
					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FUKUOKA 000021 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV MARR PREL SOCI JA
SUBJECT: IWAKUNI REFERENDUM BOOSTS MAYOR'S PROSPECTS, BUT WORRIES
YAMAGUCHI LDP AND BUSINESS CIRCLES


Sensitive But Unclassified - please protect accordingly.



1. (SBU) The March 12 referendum in Iwakuni City, in which 87%
of the participants voted to oppose the transfer of the USS
Kitty Hawk air carrier wing from Atsugi to Marine Corps Air
Station (MCAS) Iwakuni under proposed U.S. forces realignment
plans, appears to have produced one clear winner: current
Iwakuni mayor Katsusuke Ihara. Ihara proposed and pushed the
referendum amidst opposition from the city council, local
chamber of commerce, and mayors of surrounding towns that are
scheduled to be merged with Iwakuni on March 20. He forged a
successful support coalition among disparate community groups
opposed to the air wing transfer, then campaigned vigorously to
boost turnout in the final days before the vote. As a result,
he now appears to be the strong favorite to win the April 23
mayoral election for the soon-to-be enlarged and post-merger
Iwakuni City.



2. (SBU) Ihara's success in getting a 58% voter turnout for the
referendum can be attributed to local citizens' anxieties -
realistic or not - about the potential impact of the air wing
transfer on their quality of life. Expectations of increased
aircraft noise and paranoia that a larger U.S. military presence
will lead to more crime appear to have been major factors. At a
March 8 press day hosted by MCAS Iwakuni (whose timing so close
to the referendum date was purely coincidental), base officials
took pains to emphasize that the new offshore runway under
construction since 1996 would mitigate noise on aircraft
takeoffs and landings. However, citizens interviewed by the
press in the days prior to the vote said that greater frequency
of flights, particularly low-level training flights over
surrounding areas, was the biggest noise concern, not takeoffs
and landings per se. Local schoolteachers and PTA groups, who
claim current flights already routinely disrupt classroom study,
were among the most active supporters of Ihara's initiative. In
addition, a small group representing local victims of crimes
committed by U.S. military personnel actively campaigned for the
referendum by making alarmist claims that assaults and thefts
would rise if the transfer goes through.



2. (SBU) The referendum's opponents, including local supporters
of MCAS Iwakuni, originally argued that the plebiscite was a
vote against the U.S.-Japan security alliance, a line that
gained little traction with city residents. In the month
preceding the vote, they got better mileage from arguments that:
1) the referendum was a waste of municipal resources; 2) the
vote would be meaningless as it concerned a national defense
issue; and 3) Mayor Ihara was simply using the vote as a pretext
to advance his own political prospects. Opponents urged voters
to stay away, and in the final days there were serious questions
as to whether turnout would reach the 50% level necessary for
the referendum to be considered valid. Final turnout (58%)
comfortably exceeded that threshold, but was still well below
the level Ihara and his supporters had predicted when the
referendum was first announced.



4. (SBU) Although Ihara must step down on March 19, one day
before Iwakuni formally merges with seven smaller towns, he will
run for mayor of the new, larger Iwakuni City in the April 23
election. While the referendum is a boost to Ihara's
re-election hopes, Iwakuni business leaders and LDP party chiefs
in Yamaguchi Prefecture worry that Ihara is actually in a weaker
position now in terms of his bargaining power with a central
government angry over the referendum campaign. Business
leaders, as well as mayors of the other towns to be merged with
Iwakuni, fear that an Ihara re-election will jeopardize expected
financial subsidies from Tokyo associated with the air wing
transfer. The LDP's Yamaguchi chapter is backing Ihara's only
announced election opponent, 38-year-old business owner (and
political neophyte) Taro Ajimura. Party leaders believe Ajimura
would be better positioned as mayor to deal with the GOJ and
Yamaguchi Prefectural Government officials on base issues.
However, as Ajimura is a latecomer to the campaign and has
little name recognition, even his LDP backers acknowledge that
his campaign is a long shot.


FUKUOKA 00000021 002 OF 002




5. (SBU) Comment: The Iwakuni referendum result is further
evidence that in today's Japan, local citizens increasingly
demand a say in GOJ actions which affect their communities. The
past Japanese practice of simply buying off local acquiescence
with handsome compensation packages from Tokyo is no longer
enough. Post-referendum press interviews with Iwakuni citizens
indicate that most acknowledge the importance of MCAS Iwakuni to
the local economy, and are not motivated by any particular
anti-U.S. sentiment. Rather, the Iwakuni vote appears to have
been a call for the need for the central government to actively
engage in more consultations with local communities on decisions
affecting their areas, as much as it was a protest vote against
the air wing transfer itself. End comment.
WONG